Health history for our time

Humanitarians, increasingly desperate for enrollment and donations, have increasingly embraced health as a way of salvation.

As more and more students pursue professional or pre-professional degrees in health sciences, pain and illness literature courses, medical ethics, and medical and public health histories offer a way to appeal to those potential nurses, health administrators. And doctors who seek a coherent background not only in science but also in the human and ethical dimensions of health, illness and disease.

Health is a field of human research, education and practice which, in its words Routledge partner of health humanities“Offers an inclusive, democratic, pragmatic, applied, critical and culturally diverse approach to providing health and wellness …” It:

  • Asks the “relationship between ill health and social equality”.
  • “Health and social care develops humanistic theories related to practice.”
  • In health research, purely quantitative approaches speak to explanatory value.
  • “The forefront of cultural differences as a resource for positive change in society.”
  • Critically examines the “humanity of an increasingly globalized healthcare system”.
  • Shows “lesser known, prominent, or celebrated” therapies and practices.
  • Demonstrates “the value of industry and humanity and health benefits”.

In short, Health Humanity provides a critical perspective on healthcare policy, practice, and medical technology. The field compares and contrasts the different cultural traditions and their perspectives on health and illness, showing the forefront of patients’ perspectives and showing how applied art, expressive therapy and humanistic perspectives (such as descriptive medicine or music and art therapy) can contribute to improvement. In physical and mental well-being.

The successor to the earlier medical anthropology, Health Humanity represents more than just a “change of name”. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Focusing on diversity, interdisciplinary and inequality, the field places special emphasis on building intercultural sensitivity, empathy and compassion in the training of healthcare professionals.

Yet for the growing visibility of all fields, it is difficult to convince many potential health science majors that health humanities courses are as relevant or meaningful as health or health information or health policy or health economics sociology classes, let alone biology, chemistry, and physics.

A new book by a classical historian, however, provides a new and highly persuasive technique for involving students in biomedical sciences from a more humane perspective. Kyle Harper Plagues on the Earth: A Course in Disease and Human HistoryWhich, of course, made the video an overnight sensation.

To be sure, the book contains many familiar stories, but from the point of view of a novel. In addition to the most notorious “celebrity” diseases – bubonic plague, chicken pox, cholera, diphtheria, influenza, malaria, measles, mumps, polio, rubella, scarlet fever, smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, typhoid, whooping cough and whooping cough. .

You will read about the Black Death, the Irish Potato Famine, and the Great Bengal Famine, but a host of other famines and epidemics around the world and why some areas were severely damaged and others were protected. The heroes of Eurocentric medicine are there – Erlich, Fleming, Koch, Jenner, Lister, Pasteur, Sabin, Salk and many more – but also key figures in the medical history of China, India, the Islamic Middle East. And sub-Saharan Africa, like Ibn Khaldun.

So how is this book unique? In its span and perimeter that has created a work that is nothing but Eurocentric. Its data and methods. Its precision. Its challenge to the traditional historical narrative. His attention to the different effects of the disease and its socio-economic, political and military consequences. His focus on the human costs of slavery, contract labor and colonialism, and the early urbanization, the birth of prisons and hospitals, and the military revolution that increased the frequency and scale of armed conflict. Above all, its emphasis on the transhistorical interplay of population, ecology, economics, environment and evolution.

As the author describes the central theme of his book: “Human history shapes the course of human history by changing disease ecology and pathogen evolution, disease ecology and pathogen evolution. Our germs are a product of our history, and our history is determined by the fight against infectious diseases. “

Here are some notable contributions to the work.

1. It covers the true global history of infectious, microbial, vector-borne, and gastro-intestinal and respiratory diseases and various parasites and pathogens (fungi, helminths, protozoa, bacteria and viruses) and how they shaped human history. From the Pleistocene to the present.

2. It takes advantage of recent discoveries in evolutionary biology, genetics, genomics, microbiology, paleopathology, phylogenetics and primatology to challenge established disease chronology.

3. It contributes to scholarship that shows how most human diseases have historically originated from wild animals and how domesticated (cows, pigs, sheep, horses and others) have acted as evolutionary bridges.

4. It chronologically corrects diseases chronologically using archaeological DNA studies, for example, to show that many diseases that we consider to be timeless have in fact appeared relatively recently.

5. It offers significantly clearer and more understandable discussion of difficult topics such as horizontal gene transfer, zoonotic bridges and other technical issues.

6. It focuses on diseases, germs and viruses, and is interested in the effects of disease on humans, such as plants and animals.

7. It challenges the notion that the history of health and disease prevention is an unequivocal story of progress.

8. It reveals how the effects and reactions of a disease are influenced by the age structure of a particular society, population density, geographical distribution, household organization, class organization, technology and mode of production and political system.

9. It emphasizes disease as an effective agent of historical change with its profound impact on the type of immigration, military issues, religious beliefs, social interactions, state functioning and war.

The book is filled with fascinating tidbits of information, such as our chimpanzee cousins ​​“a part of the viral diversity we tolerate,” yet their numbers are much smaller than they were long ago.

Although the book is chronologically structured, it is nothing more than an antiquity. Its historical narrative shows how “progress”, starting with agriculture and animal husbandry and later economic productivity, social systems, class segregation, long distance trade and regional and global interconnections often contribute to the entry of new pathogens into human diseases. Poole demonstrates conclusively that the topics it addresses are transhistorical.

Harper, however, is not the first to attempt to write a jumbo history of disease and history, and compares his book to William H. O’Neill’s 1975 classic. Plague and people, Which emphasizes the role of global interactions in the spread of disease and Alfred Crossby’s research on the biological and environmental consequences of the European discovery era. But Harper’s study has benefited greatly from recent genetic and archaeological and paleo-archaeological research, and has made significant contributions to earlier histories, for example, demonstrating the role of colonial violence and labor exploitation in the New World’s indigenous population.

Harper’s history is not like Siddhartha Mukherjee’s eloquent, startling, obvious, even poetic, Pulitzer Prize winner. Emperor of all Maladis: Biography of CancerWhich, for all its power, is an old-fashioned medical history: an epic battle for “cure, control, and victory” of cancer that focuses primarily on cunning, perseverance, and determination, but also on “arrogance”, patriarchy, and misconceptions. Generations of surgeons, bedside physicians and laboratory scientists.

Scholarship works took many years of rich and arduous research and writing, like Harper’s, and the book’s spade work began long before the current epidemic. Although Covid is indeed mentioned, it does not occupy the center stage by underscoring one of Harper’s most compelling themes: although modernization has, in some cases, significantly improved society’s ability to cope with infectious diseases, it also creates new opportunities for those diseases. Developed and circulated.

Harper’s book concludes: “For those who have studied past or present infectious diseases, the epidemic was a complete inevitable catastrophe. […] Its forms are conceivable, its descriptions are largely random. “

Anthropology can indeed make a significant contribution to the study of medicine by providing a larger picture of those who study a particular age, a society, or a disease that are likely to be missed. Not every reviewer shares my enthusiasm for Harper’s Book. In the future, others will write about non-communicable causes of death, including cancer, cardiovascular and degenerative diseases and the various chronic disabilities and disorders responsible for the increasing proportion of deaths in our time, and chemical contaminants, additives and genetic manipulations that affect our health. But for now, let’s be thankful for what Harper has done.

Combining history, population, economics, evolutionary biology, and genomics into a never-ending narrative, he does something I’ve never seen so eloquently or persuasively before: he shows that any thorough understanding of health requires sweeping. Perspectives that provide humanity.

Steven Mintz is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.

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